"Color technology is like any other topic you start digging into, there's a lot more to it underneath that the general public isn't aware of. I mean a person can make a career out of it," laughs Kendall Scott, the lead instructor of EMU PPAT's Color Technology course.
Scott has indeed made and even finished a career in the color technology industry, having recently retired from BASF, one of the world's largest suppliers of automotive coatings and paint. After graduating from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry, Scott began working at BASF in 1983. He worked on a variety of aspects of automotive coatings and in 2000 became the BASF leader of color science in automotive coatings in North America.
Scott has been teaching the Color Technology course since 2010, and like a lot of the students in his classes, his path to the industry of color was a bit serendipitous.
"I needed a job because my wife wouldn't marry me until I got a job," jokes Scott. Scott's sensible future wife directed him to a chemist friend for a job opportunity that would eventually lead to a passion for color technology, his career at BASF, and his education career with EMU.
"I knew nothing about paint or coatings, other than things you learn as a child, and basically, everything I know and that I try to impart to others I learned during the course of employment. I always encourage students with that fact, because they'll experience my passion for the subject, and I'm hoping some of them will pick up that love for color."
Automotive Origins, Applicable Anywhere
Since starting in the 1990s, the Color Technology course has helped hundreds of students gain a better understanding of the importance of color in industrial fields such as manufacturing, automotive, textiles, and almost anything that is connected to color in a technical, physical manner.
The class began as a partnership between EMU and the Detroit Colour Council, an organization that supports formal educational efforts in color science and design around metro Detroit, and was taught by a longtime Ford employee before Scott took over.
While the origins of the class are rooted in the automotive industry, it teaches fundamentals that are applicable to any industry where high-quality, physical (as opposed to digital) colored products are necessary.
"[The class is for] anybody working in a technical function, or it could be a technical sales function or quality control, where the product is a colored product that has to be manufactured to the right color over and over and over again," details Scott.
The class began as a university-credited course but became a standalone PPAT course when the team realized that the people who needed the education the most, were those already working in the industry. Scott has found his students are often put in charge of color assessment or color science out of necessity.
"Let's say you go to work at an OEM assembly plant where on one side of the road, they paint the cars, and on the other side of the road they have the assembly plant, where they finish out all the cars," explains Scott. "Somebody could start in one area and then get a job in another area, and they might find themselves in this new area where they're suddenly responsible for something they know nothing about!"
While most students in the class aren't taking up color science to woo a potential significant other like he once did, Scott hopes that learning more about the science behind color will create an environment where students fall in love with the work.
Learning Color Subjectivity and Objectivity
Color Technology is a 2-day course and a part of the Polymers and Coatings Program at EMU PPAT, which aims to develop relevant scientific knowledge for understanding and for expanding the science and technology of polymers, coatings, paints, inks, adhesives, and related nano-based materials.
Each Color Technology day consists of an 8-hour class filled with interactive presentations and hands-on projects around visual and instrumental assessment of color.
Scott leads day two, focused on instrumental assessment, while Allen Brown, Global Manager, Color Mastering, Ford Color and Materials Design, leads the topic of visual assessment on day one.
Day one's visual assessment covers a wide variety of topics including why viewing color is prone to subjectivity, testing for color discrimination and color blindness, and how to speak about color in an objective way.
"One of the biggest problems that you have, when you have a group of people in the industry who are selling products that are colored to each other, is when something's wrong, do they describe it the same way?" explains Scott.
"First, do they see it the same way, and then do they describe it the same way? So we teach them a language to use, to talk about the color differences they see. We encourage them to take this language back to their companies, to use it consistently, and to teach other people to use it so that we can all better understand each other."
Once students have a solid grasp of viewing color objectively as an observer and understanding their own limitations, day two focuses on analyzing color with the aid of instruments.
"You can do instrumental measurements over and over and over again, and you won't get exactly the same numbers, but you get the same answer. If it's lighter, it's lighter, and will always be lighter - if you measure it and someone else measures it. So, students get to see that the measurement of color takes some of the subjectivity out of the assessment of color and makes their jobs easier."
The Color Technology course at EMU is unique in that it provides education on a variety of instruments used in the industry, rather than a particular manufacturer's instruments or software.
With a deeper understanding of how to use instruments, students will be able to quantify color and color differences and understand the root cause of complex issues like metamerism - the phenomenon in which two samples can match perfectly for color in one kind of light and look very different in another kind of light.
Navigating unique challenges like metamerism provides students with a better understanding of the science behind color technology, but Scott and Brown do their best to make sure that they communicate in a down-to-earth manner.
"Have you ever gone to a lecture and walked away from it saying, 'You know that person's really smart, but I didn't understand a thing they said.'? As a teacher, I think it's critical that I try to teach in a way that people really get it," says Scott.
"The best compliment would be I really understood what you were saying, and it made sense to me, and I can go do something with it."
After taking the Color Technology course, students can expect to walk away with a deeper understanding of the subjectivity of visual assessment, the key things to consider when making visual assessments including lighting, lighting directionality, and materials, the objectivity of instrumental assessment, and a language to describe color that people will understand.
Scott, whose favorite color is blue, hopes his passion for teaching and color come across during the 2-day short course, "It’s valuable to communicate to new people in the field the importance of what they’re doing, and maybe light a fire underneath students to go beyond their daily job and find something they’ll really love. I enjoy trying to impart that to others."